Posts Tagged ‘WWII’


Sunday, 30 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I feel like an unusually large number of the novels I’ve been discussing lately have a military setting, but I suppose that’s not specifically a bad thing. There may well be more coming, too, since my DH has recommended the one he’s currently reading…


Cover of Landfall

Cover of Landfall

61. Landfall by Nevil Shute


This particular novel is set during the first year of WWII, as it had to be for any realism, considering it was published in 1940, and is about a young RAF officer on regular, boring patrol looking for German submarines and other shipping off the English East coast. Between flights he chats up a local barmaid and considers his future RAF career even beyond the current war.

One understaffed day, however, Jerry Chambers, finally sees and sinks his sub, only to get back to base to find there’s a British sub missing and he’s likely responsible…

All in all this is a nice, positive early war novel, before war fatigue had set in. We don’t meet any Germans in person, but they are up to dastardly tricks anyway, and the nobility and honour of our plucky British hero is there to be proven by the simple girl whose heart he’s won.

Class difference in relationships is certainly brought up in this novel, as something that is becoming less important but still has to be overcome, and there is a clear feeling that the war is acting as an equalising force.

Up early

Sunday, 14 March 2010

UK: 14. Ch 2 in A, ch 1 in B. *(Tr 3 in B, tr 1 in A) five times. Turn.
US: 14. Ch 2 in A, ch 1 in B. *(Dc 3 in B, dc 1 in A) five times. Turn.

And now to continue with the books I was telling you about yesterday.

9. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

I really thought I reread this one early last year (for work, actually), but it seems I didn’t, as it’s not on the list. Unless I did so in 2007, perhaps (I got it in 2003, when it came out). Anyway, it’s not a bad thing for it to have actually been due a reread!

I’d like to think I was just someone who cared to have her own writing well-punctuated, and not one of Truss’s [apparently her preference, over “Truss'”, and it’s her name!] sticklers, who has the urge to fix public and mistakenly punctuated text, but perhaps you should ask those people who let me see their writing while it’s still being drafted… (Honestly, though, it really doesn’t bother me in what I read online from private authors.)

Not that I agree with Truss in every point she makes (I personally think there is more room for personal choice in some (very) few of the ‘rules’ she lays down than she allows, as long as the chooser is consistent within their text, and preferably their corpus) but certainly following them (and they seem well explained and laid out to me) wouldn’t leave anyone red in the face (or, more likely, with red all over their essay).

Still, as I pointed out yesterday, I reread this because it’s funny. It’s generally not nastily funny, either, with the jokes either being gentle self-ribbing towards the author herself (and often other potential “sticklers”), or at the unintended ambiguities (or downright changes of meaning) caused by the wrong punctuation. I’d say, read it for the humour, and treat any clarification in punctuation usage as a bonus!

10. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

It turns out (from looking at the author information after I read this book) that I did own and read one of Lowry’s Anastasia books as a teenager, but I hadn’t made the connection, as that was nowhere near as serious as this one (or as the other Newbery Medal winner by Lowry that I finished last night). Which isn’t to suggest that this is an unremittingly serious (or even tear-jerking) novel; this is a children’s book, told from the point of view of a child who enjoys spending time with and showing things to her friend, even while trying to save that friend from being rounded up by the Nazi soldiers who are, after three years of occupation, trying to deport Denmark’s Jewish population.

Most of all, I think this book simply reinforced my admiration for how Denmark, through the co-operation of large numbers of the population, managed to save the vast majority of their Jewish fellow citizens from the Nazi death machine.

11. The Giver by Lois Lowry

Where Number the Stars is a straight historical novel, this is a futuristic tale of a society where utopia has been achieved through complete control, and where Jonas, the protagonist, is at 12 (the age where occupations are assigned) designated to be trained as the new Receiver (to be trained by the one who must now become the eponymous Giver) of all the community’s history, memory, and real emotion. He may never speak of his training or work, and while he will ultimately have to advise the Council of Elders when they (very occasionally) encounter a new situation, without ever giving them the kind of context they just can’t handle.

While there are niggling flaws (the numbers don’t always seems to add up, for one), this is a book that is meant to be thought-provoking (even more than the other, I think), and it succeeds at that while telling a good story well. The ending is ambiguous, but apparently this is the first in a loose trilogy, so that should be at least partially cleared up in the other books.

The difficulty for me in assessing this book is in trying to work out how it would come across to someone (especially a child) who had never read Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale or any of the many other classic future dystopia novels. (I certainly amn’t suggesting a child should read any of these. A teenager – as I was – quite possibly, if ready for them.) Certainly I think it’d be good for a child to be able to discuss the novel after (and probably while) reading it, to work out where the ideas are leading. (Mind you, I think that’s a good general principle as regards reading nearly anything, for everyone; some books do require it more than others, however.)

New Nostalgia

Saturday, 7 November 2009

This will likely be another short post, about books that feel like they should be rereads, but aren’t.

51. Just Henry by Michelle Magorian

As a child I read Goodnight Mr Tom and Back Home multiple times (I had a lot of kids’ WWII novels and biographies, and that war and its aftermath are a regular period for Magorian to write about). (I have read one or two of her other books as well, but don’t know them so well.) I liked both novels a lot, for the realism of the characters, and the interest and depth they bring to sometimes horrendous situations. (Although there’s a lot of good-heartedness in there as well, and they are perfectly suitable for the intended age-groups, in my opinion.)

This book is Magorian’s first in some years, and takes us to 1950, and a group of adolescents still dealing with rationing, National Service, and the family disruption caused by men having been lost in the war. At the same time there is an atmosphere of looking forward to new possibilities (Henry and his friends are fascinated by the cinema and what it shows them of the world) and new attitudes and opportunities (Henry’s stepfather has gone back to school, and hopes to be able to do 3rd level training or studies; and Henry and his classmates, male and female, are all being taught both to cook a meal and to put up a shelf). There are still many types of prejudice to be challenged and overcome, and a need to re-evaluate the past as well as the future, but this is a historical novel which very much looks forward.

52. The Truth About the Irish by Terry Eagleton

This was a (much appreciated) wedding present, to remind me of what I’ve left, and my DH of where I’ve come from! (It does rather help to have enough education in the country and its history to tell fact from fiction, but there are enough signposts that a savvy reader shouldn’t have much trouble.) It’s very amusing, in the good-natured self-deprecating humour that only a professed Irishman (no matter where he’s born) (or woman) could get away with.

Pensive on Purim

Friday, 21 March 2008

Purim is a time for fun, for dressing up and giving gifts (food to friends and charity/tzedaka to those in need), but it’s also a good time to reflect, to turn things over in one’s head, rather than just upside-down.

Reading the Book of Esther so soon after Parshas Zachor, and when I’ve been reading so much about the Holocaust (and other wars), and considering the ongoing and renewed conflicts across the world makes me think of how our lives can be overturned in an instant, and about how Yom Kippur is often glossed as Yom Ke-Purim, a day like Purim.

82. Trench Art by Nicholas J. Saunders

Simple evidence that whenever they can people will try to personalise, beautify the objects they use, perhaps more than ever in the the dehumanising atmosphere of front line war. (I actually read this yesterday, but didn’t get to blog it.)

83. Animal Groups: Life in a School: Dolphins by Richard & Louise Spilsbury

If even dolphins can regularly make the effort to help lift the weaker members of their school to the surface to breathe, what possible excuse do we as humans have for not caring for each other?

84. Hitler’s Forgotten Victims: The Holocaust and the Disabled by Suzanne E. Evans

And this is the book that has been overshadowing my mind for the last few days. I don’t even know what the most horrific part of this ‘programme’ was. I don’t even want to list the options, as it makes me feel sick to describe these disgusting ‘doctors’ who lost any vestige of humanity in their disregard for non-‘useful’ people and their leadership of the kind of ‘mercy’ killings such as starvation, gassing, botched sterilisations, experimentation and far more.

It’s not as if I didn’t know that anyone outside Aryan ideals was in severe danger in Nazi Germany/occupied Europe, but I hadn’t realised the extent of the systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of disabled people. Nor had I realised that the infamous experimenting and eugenic-obsessed ‘doctors’ like Mengele weren’t (apparently) rare aberrations, but a very significant proportion of influential medical leaders of the time and place.

So I’m sickened, and overnight I need to get back my joy in Purim and remember its message, that those who persecute will be overthrown, and in the end those of us considered lesser and worthy of extermination will survive and outlast our persecutors and their cultures. The Divine orchestration may be incomprehensible to us, but it will be worked out.

Destruction and Beauty

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

I felt the need to finish the Library of the Holocaust books, but to do so sooner rather than later, and then to read something completely different, so that’s what I did. The series, or rather the topic, brings me down, despite its importance, and I normally don’t read so much about it all at once. I prefer to focus and reflect on the personal stories, as more approachable, normally, but occasionally it’s worth reminding myself of the scale of this scar on humanity.

78. World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: Origins of the Holocaust by David Downing

This one discusses not just the 1920s and 1930s and Germany, but the ingrained Anti-Semitism across Europe and beyond over centuries and millennia.

79. World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: Fighting Back by David Downing

About the wide spectrum of resistance, from those keeping diaries and archives in secret to provide documentary evidence, going on with education and life beyond survival, through both Gentiles and Jews helping each other to survive, to the physical armed fighting back of the Ghetto uprisings and Resistance groups.

80. World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: Aftermath and Remembrance by David Downing

The ongoing impacts.

81. The Essential Rene Lalique by William Warmus

And this was my relief, showing beautiful jewellery and glasswork in the context of the time and Lalique‘s art and career. I had heard Lalique’s name, and that he had something to do with art glass manufacture, but I have now learnt a lot more, and did I have the time and money I think I would look into collecting some of his pieces. Although I don’t have the display space either! (I’ve discussed that before.) (Beware music on the company website.)

History’s Bigger Picture

Monday, 17 March 2008

73. England: An Aerial View by Adrian Warren & Dae Sasitorn
74. England: The Mini-Book of Aerial Views by Adrian Warren & Dae Sasitorn

These two books contain nearly all the same photographs, in a very similar order, but not precisely, and the pictures sometimes have different proportions or other final editing. The first book is a large (and heavy!) coffee table book, with very good historical overviews of the regions of England, with good captions next to each large photograph.

The Mini-Book has similar (but abbreviated) overviews and without the detailed captions, just the briefest few words giving the name and rough location of each. The photography in each are beautiful, and there are a few pictures that literally took my breath away (at least in the larger size). (NB I dithered over counting these as one read, but they aren’t precisely the same and I did read both.)

There is a Britain version of this pair of books, which I look forward to reasonably soon.

75. World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: Toward Genocide by David Downing
76. World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: The Nazi Death Camps by David Downing
77. World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: Persecution and Emigration by David Downing

I’m going to summarise the review of the three of these together as well, as reading them had me in tears, and I don’t want to go into the detail again right away. This is a very well put together series however (we have three more I haven’t got to yet), that gives plenty of sources (plenty for the purposes of teenagers and personal readers, at least) showing some of the major trends and effects of the Holocaust. It’s for a general audience, and ‘explains’ what happened briefly, explaining how much the individuals actually knew at the time, as well as what we know with hindsight. It’s clearly written, and allows for people dipping in and out of the book, although each of them reads well straight through. It quotes personal testimony, but doesn’t tell individual stories, as most of the Holocaust literature I’ve read does.

I amn’t looking forward to reading the rest of these, but I think it’ll be worthwhile.